On Wednesday February 24, Fairfield University hosted a “Campus Culture Conversation” forum led by the Fairfield University Student Association (FUSA) Senate Class Presidents. This event was held to create a space for students to express concerns surrounding the “ghetto party” that occurred this past weekend at an off-campus beach residence. 400 plus students were in attendance.
The dialog began with FUSA presidents addressing forum guidelines: respecting others voices, not engaging in personal attacks, being open to opinions of others, refrain from taking pictures, and to be mindful of social media usage during the event. Teddy DeRosa, Associate Director of Public Relations & Community Relations, provided students with tips on how to address media outlets. She emphasized the meaning of “off the record”, provided tips for students on how to utilize the media’s ability to edit footage, and the right to reject to comment. She also pressed the importance of not answering questions students did not know the answer to firsthand.
The audience was asked a set of questions: Why were people offended? Did people intended to offend, or if the offense was out of ignorance? How do students want a response through love and grace? What institutional changes can be made?
One of the initial guidelines set was to refrain from addressing a specific group or individual; that was later modified to permit identification of groups but not individuals. This amendment was made after a series of student responses.
The first to answer this question was the spokesperson for Black, Hispanic and Brown Experience (BHBE), who came with a prepared address. It expressed the group’s opinion that athletes are shown preference within the community, and those responsible for the parties need to held accountable for their actions. They continued, stating that it was a moral choice to attend the party, and that the event served as a testament to minorities on campus feeling unheard, unseen and unfelt.
One student was outraged at the amount of false information that reached the press before the University took action. This student also shared the opinion that ‘ghetto’ is a style, not necessarily having a racial connotation. This prompted another student to respond by asking what the point of the party was, and what the host and attendees were trying to do.
This led to FUSA’s second question: Did people intend to offend, or did the party occur out of ignorance? Though the question was not answered in full, many people criticized the student body’s response. Their concerns surrounded the lack of community in the aftermath of the party and embodiment of Fairfield’s Jesuit values was also called into question. Some felt that they were missing; while another student felt that now more than ever we must encourage a sense of “love and grace”.
The third question: How do students want a response—through love and grace—was not completely addressed, but conversation continued. One community member stuck out to many. A student’s mother shared her reaction to the event, disappointed in student conduct and felt that those who she believed were defending the party had offended her.
The fourth and final question asked students what institutional changes they believed could be made. Many thought that incorporating different diversity programs into the academic curriculum and the First Year Experience program would be beneficial. Another BHBE spokesperson listed suggestions for changes: a bias response team, apologies from party hosts and attendees, and the hosts being reprimanded for their actions.
By the end of the forum, FUSA and the university determined that they will ensure that our programs and structures are responsive to the needs of our students of all races and backgrounds.